The Sephardi Studies Project > Olga Borovaya Introduction
by Olga Borovaya
Author of Modern Ladino Culture: Press, Belles Lettres, and Theater in the Late Ottoman Empire, Indiana University Press, 2011
The history of Ladino secular literature is very short. The first secular work in this language, Moses Almosnino’s Chronicle of Ottoman Kings (1567), was never published in the Ottoman Empire and remained unknown to Sephardim. The second secular book, David Attias’s Golden Garden, was produced more than two centuries later in Livorno (1778) and also never reached Ottoman Jews for whom it was intended. The first known secular publication in Ladino to appear in the Ottoman Empire was Shaarei mizrach (1845-1846), the first Jewish periodical in Muslim lands, which marked a turning point in the history of Ladino print culture.
The last third of the nineteenth century witnessed the bloom of secular Ladino literature which appeared in the form of newspapers, novels, and plays. Having no counterparts in previous epochs, these three genres emerged as a result of westernization and secularization. They were imported by Sephardi westernizers from Europe, but took root and developed in their own ways in the local culture.
Ladino fiction was a by-product of the press which used it to attract mass readerships. It emerged as the adaptation of foreign fiction. Many Ladino plays, both original and translated, also appeared in periodicals and were intended to be read as well as performed. The language of these texts is significantly gallicized both on the syntactic and lexical levels.
By the outset of World War II, a few hundred works of modern Ladino literature had been produced, but a significant number of them have not survived. The most valuable among the extant Ladino texts, from the linguistic and historical standpoints, are the periodicals. Between 1845 and 1939, approximately three hundred Sephardi periodicals, most of them in Ladino, came out in the Ottoman Empire and the successor states.